Arizona @ New England
Perhaps once Sunday's games are through Wes Welker will have caught ten balls for 120 yards and two touchdowns and I'll look stupid for saying this. (Wouldn't be a first.) But I do believe there is substance to the notion that Welker is taking a "backseat" in an offense that will feature its two tight ends, Brandon Lloyd, and Stevan Ridley moving forward. Ridley has developed into a more dynamic chain-moving option than Welker, who showed signs of decline late last season, being held to 60 yards or fewer in five of his final six games. His per-game yardage average sank from 120 in the first eight weeks to 70.6 in the last 11, including playoffs. Welker's yards-per-catch average also dipped from 14.5 to 10.4. He didn't score at all in Weeks 7-11, and found pay dirt just twice between November 28 and the February 5 Super Bowl. I still think Welker will catch 90 balls, but question whether he'll exceed standard-scoring WR3 production in Josh McDaniels' offense. He should still be locked into PPR lineups. ... Ridley, to me, is a top-ten running back play until proven otherwise. He's not another BenJarvus Green-Ellis, whose weekly value was totally governed by weekly game plans. Ridley is a legit bellcow runner. Start him against the Cardinals.
Cardinals DLs Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell manhandled the Seahawks' offensive line in Week 1, but they'll have trouble keeping it up against New England's far more talented front five. Tom Brady is an elite QB1. ... I think there is reason for caution on Brandon Lloyd this week, but not because of his final Week 1 stat line. He led the Patriots in targets and would have finished with six catches for 117 yards and a touchdown had Brady not overthrown Lloyd on a would-be 48-yard score after blowing past Titans FS Michael Griffin. I'm a little worried about Lloyd in Week 2 because of Patrick Peterson's coverage. I'd bump Lloyd from borderline WR1 to WR2/3 status this Sunday, but certainly wouldn't be opposed to starting him. ... Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both scored Opening Day touchdowns and are the top-two options in an efficient, high-octane, voluminous passing attack. They are both locked-and-loaded every-week fantasy starters. ... Gronkowski has 23 TDs in his last 23 games. He's off to a Hall-worthy beginning to his career.
The fact that Kevin Kolb led Arizona to a Week 1 win off the bench against Seattle is a nice little short-term plus for a Cardinals organization that was horribly ripped off in last year's trade for a quarterback who doesn't even fit their system. Expect Kolb's success to be short lived. NT Vince Wilfork, impressive rookie RE Chandler Jones, and versatile WLB Dont'a Hightower will shred the Arizona offensive line just as they did Tennessee's in the opener. And we all know how well Kolb reacts to pressure. I'd avoid Kolb even in two-quarterback leagues, chalk up Andre Roberts' 5/54/1 first game as a fluke, and start only Larry Fitzgerald from the Cardinals' passing game.
Although Beanie Wells is back (supposedly) healthy this week, I don't see a lot of reason for Week 2 optimism from the Cardinals' backfield. Ryan Williams was completely ineffective on ten Opening Day touches, managing 26 total yards and losing a fumble. He's a candidate for coach Ken Whisenhunt's doghouse. Wells' health status is day to day even when he's not listed on the weekly injury reports. Wells had 14 yards on seven Week 1 rushing attempts. Unless they are playing the Rams or one of them suffers a game-costing injury, Wells and Williams are not viable fantasy starters for the foreseeable future. I wouldn't even bother with either of them in a flex spot.
Score Prediction: Patriots 34, Cardinals 10
Minnesota @ Indianapolis
On December 24 last year, Adrian Peterson shredded his left ACL and MCL with damage to both meniscuses. 268 days later, "All Day" shocked even the folks who went to every Vikings training camp practice by averaging nearly 5.0 yards a carry and scoring twice against the Jaguars. "I told him: 'I'm not sure you weren't just faking that ACL,'" coach Leslie Frazier joked (sort of) after the win. "He looked pretty good." I went back and watched all of Peterson's 18 touches, and I'd guess he's at around 85 percent of his in-prime self. That's better than all but maybe five NFL backs, of course, and Peterson will only improve each week as he becomes further and further removed from the injury. Indianapolis' run defense was eviscerated by the Bears in Week 1, allowing Matt Forte and Michael Bush to combine for three TDs and 122 yards on 28 carries. Forte and Bush's combined rushing yardage sounds like a reasonable over-under for AP in Week 2. ... Meanwhile, Toby Gerhart has already been reduced to change-of-pace back and fantasy handcuff-only. Gerhart had seven touches on 20 Week 1 snaps, and that'll be about his ceiling moving forward.
Frazier underutilized Percy Harvin last season, often leaving him on the sideline in the red zone and for long stretches in the open field. The mistake has been corrected. Harvin played 47-of-59 snaps in Week 1 (80 percent) and racked up 104 total yards on 11 touches. Over his last eight games, Harvin has 90 touches for 827 yards and seven touchdowns. (Not including returns.) Those numbers extrapolate to 160 touches for 1,654 yards and 14 scores over a full season, stats that would've ranked Harvin second among 2011 fantasy receivers, behind only Calvin Johnson. Still think Harvin isn't a WR1? ... Kyle Rudolph played 100 percent of Minnesota's Week 1 snaps and ranked second to Harvin in targets with seven, securing five for 67 yards including a Gronkian 29-yard gain over the top of Jaguars CB Kevin Rutland. The touchdowns will come. Rudolph is a legitimate TE1 against the Colts, whose loss of DE/OLB Dwight Freeney (ankle) may free up Rudolph for more pass routes than blocking assignments. ... No other Vikings pass catchers are worth fantasy roster spots. I did think Christian Ponder was impressive against Jacksonville's underrated pass defense after a slow start to Week 1, completing 17 of his final 20 passes for 238 yards. He's a viable back-end QB2. I'd take him over the likes of Andy Dalton and Sam Bradford, and probably Russell Wilson, too.
The Colts have misled with info regarding Austin Collie's (concussions) availability for consecutive weeks, and I'd be hard pressed to trust him even if he's declared active Sunday at noon. While I'm certain Collie will be a fantasy asset once cleared, I want to see him play a significant on-field role before placing him in my lineup. Collie would have a difficult matchup with Vikings slot CB Antoine Winfield, anyway. Winfield helped hold Justin Blackmon to 24 yards on three catches on Opening Day. ... Colts RT Winston Justice struggled in pass pro before suffering his own concussion in the opener. While Justice is expected to play against Minnesota, he may have his lunch handed to him by LE Brian Robison. Robison was a Week 1 terror against the Jaguars, as Pro Football Focus credited him with six quarterback hurries and three hits, on top of three solo tackles and a pass breakup. Andrew Luck has a bright future, but his supporting cast isn't helping him. Collie's health is unreliable and so is Luck's protection, even to a greater degree.
Falling behind 17-3 in the second quarter led to 45 pass attempts by Luck in Week 1, a number Colts coaches certainly would say is too high. The Bears sat back in their opportunistic Cover 2 and picked him off three times, in addition to reserve DE Corey Wootton's strip-sack. The game flow resulted in abnormally high target counts for Reggie Wayne (18), Coby Fleener (10), and Donnie Avery (8). While Wayne will remain a double-digit target monster going forward -- at least until Collie returns -- I don't think you can count on Fleener and Avery as starters in a game that projects to offer up a more level playing field. This should be a tight one. Start Wayne, but the others need to do it again to enter fantasy lineups. ... Donald Brown powered in from 18 yards out for a Week 1 touchdown against the Bears, but was held under four yards-per on his other eight carries and lost 30 combined snaps to rookie No. 2 runner Vick Ballard and passing-down back Mewelde Moore. Sell Brown now if you find a taker. Minnesota held the Jaguars to 113 scoreless yards on 34 runs (3.32 YPC) on Opening Day and should dominate Indianapolis in the trenches.
Score Prediction: Vikings 23, Colts 20
Friday Update: Collie was listed as doubtful on Friday's final injury report. Look for another start out of Avery, although I don't think anyone besides Wayne is a strong Week 2 fantasy play on the Indianapolis 53-man roster.
4:05PM ET Games
Washington @ St. Louis
Pierre Garcon teased his mammoth fantasy upside as the featured "X" receiver in Washington's offense by catching four balls for 109 yards and a touchdown in just eight snaps at New Orleans. Unfortunately, he suffered a first-quarter foot injury and will be a game-time decision for Sunday's afternoon matchup with the Rams. Aldrick Robinson was Garcon's fill-in last week, but Leonard Hankerson also has experience at X. I think it's a fantasy situation to avoid due to the late start, lack of clarity, and Garcon's suspect health if he plays. I'd look elsewhere for Week 2 receivers. ... Whereas Fred Davis was a go-to pass catcher in the 2011 Redskins offense, so far Davis has operated as more of a traditional, balanced tight end in the new-look attack. Davis played 76-of-76 Week 1 snaps, but Pro Football Focus charted him with 52 blocking plays and only 24 pass routes. Those metrics might reverse when the Redskins play a game mostly from behind, but they don't figure to do that at the Edward Jones Dome. Davis is not a recommended Week 2 start.
Robert Griffin III was nothing short of terrific in his NFL debut. While he benefited from an anemic Saints pass rush, Griffin also made big-time throws when there was pressure in his face, most notably on the 88-yard touchdown pass to Garcon. Eight of Griffin's nine runs were by design, confirming the Redskins are game planning to put his legs to productive use. Garcon's potential absence is a slight Week 2 fantasy concern, but Robinson's out-of-nowhere 4/52/1 career game suggests they can just plug another guy in and be alright. Griffin is a top-ten quarterback play in Week 2 and I expect him to remain so going forward. ... Alfred Morris is a laboring plodder; a running back who can't run. But he falls forward, has lean and power to his game, and can make a small cut when he needs to. Knowing Shanahan & Son's history, Morris isn't guaranteed the Week 2 feature back role. Shoot, I wrote last week that Evan Royster was the favorite for carries after the Redskins listed him first on the "updated" depth chart. But I'd feel good about Morris' chances of pacing the backfield in workload for a second straight week. Roy Helu is the passing-down back, for now. Royster played three Week 1 snaps and will have to wait his turn.
The Rams breathed a sigh of relief when LT Rodger Saffold practiced this week following last Sunday's scary neck injury. They won't get back C Scott Wells (foot fracture) anytime soon. Wells was perhaps the NFC's best center last year, and St. Louis signed him for $24 million specifically to spark its interior run blocking for Jeff Fisher's ground-based attack. Wells' loss is incredibly discouraging news for Steven Jackson, who looked sharp all August but found no room to run in the opener against Detroit. The fact that Jackson is a workhorse and true every-down back should keep him locked into fantasy lineups as an RB2/flex at worst, but it's difficult to be as optimistic about S-Jax's season-long outlook. ... Lance Kendricks played 42-of-58 Week 1 snaps (72 percent) but was targeted just twice, ranking fifth on the Rams. Kendricks isn't even a viable TE2.
The Week 1 box score shows a touchdown for Brandon Gibson, but Danny Amendola is the lone Rams receiver worth weekly fantasy consideration. And that's only in PPR leagues. Amendola led the corps by playing 90 percent of St. Louis' Week 1 snaps and was targeted a team-high nine times, securing five for 70 yards. Don't bet on 100-yard games or touchdowns from Amendola, but he should rack up receptions all year long. ... Steve Smith (23 snaps), Chris Givens (18), and Brian Quick (3) rounded out the opening-week receiver group for St. Louis. ... The Rams are asking Sam Bradford to manage games this year, and he did so effectively in the opener, avoiding turnovers and converting 68 percent of his 25 throws. Fisher would likely be happy if Bradford enjoyed a 2011 Alex Smith-type year. That would be a promising step for the Rams' organization in the long run, but couldn't equate to much fantasy value. Drop Bradford for higher-upside QB2s.
Score Prediction: Redskins 24, Rams 13
Dallas @ Seattle
Cowboys RCB Morris Claiborne all but eliminated Hakeem Nicks from Week 1 with lockdown man coverage, holding the Giants' split end to 38 yards on four tough catches. Seahawks split end Braylon Edwards may struggle to repeat his own 43-yard opener versus Dallas' impressive first-round pick. Edwards also looks set to share time with Golden Tate, who returns from a knee injury this week ... Cowboys DC Rob Ryan played corner-wideout matchups to perfection against New York, letting Claiborne manhandle Nicks while usual LCB Brandon Carr shadowed Victor Cruz whenever Cruz lined up outside. Look for Carr to mirror Sidney Rice in a tough matchup for Seattle's flanker. ... Russell Wilson didn't show enough at Arizona to be worth considering as any more than a two-QB league option against a Dallas pass defense that may be emerging as a legit shutdown force. Wilson can still be a 2012 fantasy asset, but he'll need better pass protection and to play with more aggressiveness and command. He played like a tentative rookie in the opener.
Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff (ankle) will miss his second straight game. While his absence wasn't fully exposed by a fading Ahmad Bradshaw last Thursday, it's more likely to be by Marshawn Lynch and Seattle's run-centric attack. Even with Ratliff in the lineup for last November's meeting with the Seahawks, Lynch powered his way to 135 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries (5.87 YPC) against these same Cowboys. After dealing with back spasms last week, Lynch proved his health by handling the rock 23 times against the Cardinals. Lynch should also benefit from the return of RG John Moffitt from elbow surgery. Moffitt missed Week 1, and rookie fill-in J.R. Sweezy got tossed around the field by DE/DT Darnell Dockett. ... Zach Miller caught all three of his targets for 40 yards in the opener. Largely a blocker in this offense, Miller has been off the fantasy radar since he was a Raider. ... Doug Baldwin played 67 percent of the Week 1 snaps, but dropped two of his five targets and finished with five yards. The slot receiver might have a good week now and again this season, but will lack consistency as a No. 3/4 passing option in a conservative offense.
Staying with the theme of recalling last year's Seahawks-Cowboys game, I think it's notable that DeMarco Murray touched up a normally stout Seattle front seven for 139 yards on 22 carries (6.32 YPC), adding 47 more yards on four grabs. Murray is averaging a sterling 5.59 yards-per-rushing attempt through 14 NFL games. He a fantasy lineup mainstay. ... Kevin Ogletree's unforeseeable and most-likely-fluky monster Week 1 may ultimately work to the advantage of Dez Bryant by discouraging defenses from sending heavy coverage Bryant's way. The Cowboys now have five ways to beat a defense: Dez, Murray, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, and Ogletree. Tony Romo will throw to the open man, and that will be Bryant more often than not if he's avoiding double teams and safety help. Bryant also gets the most favorable matchup of Week 2. Seattle RCB Brandon Browner is physical and makes plays on the ball, but he's stiff in the hips and vulnerable over the top. Bryant can match Browner's physicality and beat him deep with speed.
Returning from a month-long hamstring injury, Austin needed a half to get his legs underneath him against the Giants. Sitting on one catch for nine yards at the break, Austin took over on one fourth-quarter drive, capping it with a 34-yard touchdown on a sluggo route after aligning at split end. He whipped Justin Tryon on the play. Austin still does some of his finest work in the slot and will square off Sunday with 32-year-old Marcus Trufant. Consider Austin a rock-solid WR2/3. ... I feel much better about Romo's fantasy prospects now that his weaponry is getting healthy and Ogletree emerged as a viable option. Dallas has the makings of one of football's most explosive offenses. While talented, the Seahawks' defense has not yet established itself as an intimidating unit from a pass-game perspective. Romo is a mid-range QB1 play. ... Jason Witten is the one Cowboys pass catcher I'd avoid in Week 2. Witten (spleen) should round gradually back into form, but he spent most of Week 1 on the line blocking and saw just three targets. He dropped one, and caught the other two for short gains near the line of scrimmage. Witten is a TE2 at the moment. I’d start guys like Jared Cook, Kyle Rudolph, and Greg Olsen over him.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 23, Seahawks 14